When bloggers attack

Bloggers, whether you like us or not, are here to stay.

While some may have morphed naturally from traditional journalism, where facts must be reported and sources referenced, to online journalism then to blogging, others have organically grown from part time hobby bloggers to full time self published blog writers with no publishers or editors to report to. Lucky them.

The rise of the ‘mummy blogger’ has been well documented, even here, and food bloggers have taken over the restaurant world blogging their opinion of hard working chefs trying to make a living. Some opinions are spot on, others are nothing more than sensationalist views created to increase hits.

Right or wrong, bloggers with a following can help and grow, or hinder and close your business. The online community and social media have given everyone a voice to state their opinion, and lord knows we’ve all got one, myself included.

So it has never been more important to be absolutely clear about your own marketing messages. If you have a product you are trying to sell then know what that product is, why you created it and how it benefits the potential buyer. Don’t bury that message in copy that no-one reads on your website, put it on your home page, make it a tag line on every page, imprint it on a buyer’s brain.

As many of you know, I am an avid skier, I write about it as part of my living and I am an absolute stickler for safety, to the point that I have been abused on my own Fairfax Snow It All blog when suggesting safety changes including not skiing with people who are drugged or drunk. But that’s all part of the online world, if you write and allow comments then be prepared for what comes back.

The ski industry is a tight one and a hard nut to crack into as a British startup company has found out this week. Snow-Beacon is a technical transmitting device that you wear on your person while skiing. The idea behind Snow Beacon is that it is to be worn in-resort only and not in the backcountry (non patrolled out of bounds snow areas far from the resort).

Their target market is cash strapped family skiers who want their children to have added safety should an avalanche happen in the resort.  Admittedly in bound avalanches are very few and far between but a number of inbound avalanches did happen in the northern season just gone and if I had a child I’d want them to have the best chance of survival.  Though it is prudent to point out that they rarely if ever happen in Australia, so perhaps the market should be kept to north of the equator.

An avalanche beacon that transmits and receives for search AND rescue can cost hundreds of dollars and skiing is already a costly past time. Children are not considered capable of performing an avalanche search and the inventor’s idea, right or wrong, is that they should still transmit a signal (that ski patrol can pick up on THEIR beacons) even if they can’t search for one. Why? For added piece of parental mind while skiing in bounds.

Right. So that’s their product, that’s their market and good on them for having the guts to give it a go as a business. However, while their tag line is ‘affordable mountain safety’ and (was, it has now been updated) clearly seen on their web home page the message that this is not for backcountry skiers is not (this has also now been updated). Nor is the message about added peace of safety mind for parents in resorts, nor is the message that it is a transmitting device only.

There lies the problem. The message isn’t clear. Sure, you can read on their Why We Do It Page and on their FAQ page that they also offer a receiving device (which is in the making) but the truth is the message has to be clear from the first impression.

*May 24 – the business owners have since updated their website to say ‘resort based avalanche transmitter’ instead of ‘affordable mountain safety’ since this blog was published

One snow blogger took to the online world this week with his thoughts on why this product is ‘irresponsible’ in the backcountry. He then stirred up a bevy of negative online comments by continually posting his blog in global online forums and Facebook pages, no doubt to increase his own hits which he is entitled to do, a blogger’s advertising lives or dies by their hit rate. I, too, know the power of a sensational headline as this blog attests.

One major website in the ski world, Unofficial Networks, picked up the blogger’s post that he sent them on their Facebook page and ran with it on an international stage. They too didn’t speak to the founder, they don’t have to (yet), everything on the internet is open fodder for comment and this is something we ALL need to be aware of, especially if you are a startup or business.

Only now the startup is launching with a host of negative chat on the internet around their product, which by midday on May 24 had gone completely viral, with debate created by a smaller, and highly vocal, percentage of skiers who ski backcountry that are not the brand’s market anyway.

However the blogger missed the point because it wasn’t there on the original website – the product is not being marketed for the backcountry. How do I know? Because I went to the source and asked the inventor.

“It was developed because some people (my daughter for instance, who is a good skier) is too young to participate in an avalanche rescue but, in my opinion should not be excluded from carrying an active avalanche transmitter while skiing in bounds” said James Aubrey Robson. “”If you do buy this and it is for your family and kids for in bounds skiing then you get them on the educational thought process early.”

So who is at fault here? The blogger for not speaking to the inventor and posting his opinion based on a piece of public marketing collateral, a website, or the startup inventor for not being bang on absolutely clear in the tag line and home page and employing a website writer to get that message across?

Bloggers and social media are not going to go away, they are here to stay and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way despite living in constant fear of myself being burned in the judgemental world we now all live in. But it is up to the marketer or business owner to be exceptionally clear about what it is they are promoting. If you can’t say it in one sentence then find a way.

“Snow-beacon – affordable resort safety for snow loving families” or similar may work or it may need more or less detail.

I like this as a cost effective product for kids, I think it’s great to see an inventor offering something that doesn’t cost the earth and I think if pitched in line with skiing safety education for in resort skiing only then it can work but it will be about instilling that message.

I also respect a blogger’s right to state their opinion and avalanches and backcountry issues are a very passionate one for those of us who have lost friends in the ski world, myself included, where safety is paramount. I love how blogging gets a conversation going and that we don’t have to all agree. But I do think this is a great example of the power of online chat and opinion and how it can work for or against you as a startup business.

Be clear, be concise and know your market (and let us know that you know your market). After talking to James, the founder, by phone today he has seen the whole blogging experience as a learning curve with feedback for getting his message clear and how writing specifically for a website is crucial. Albeit an expensive reputation learning curve thanks to the blogging world, one we can all learn from.

So now what do we have? A blogger who has rightly increased his hits and got his message out to his market and a well meaning startup on a steep marketing learning curve who launched their website too early. It’s not hard to figure out who wins in the world of online media.

My tip? Watch Snow Beacon’s space for a reworked home page.

*May 24 – Snow Beacon’s home page has been updated since this blog post to clearly state ‘resort based avalanche transmitter’. We look forward to seeing a sticker on the beacon saying ‘not for backcountry use’…just a suggestion
**May 24 5pm- the Snow Beacon website has updated their product web page to reflect their messages 

Have you been caught out on social media or the blogging community? What are your tips to working with, not against, bloggers? 

Added note – I have been asked why I did not link to any of the blogs written about Snow Beacon. I chose not to enter the debate as to whether it is or isn’t an irresponsible product nor to buy into any negative commentary in the online snow world. Why? Because THIS blog is about marketing and media and how and what we can learn from this experience about marketing and media.

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6 Comments

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  1. Many of these smaller micro players are more inventors or tinkerers than they are marketers. The idea itself seems like a bit of a stretch, God knows here in North America kids skiing seem to carry GPS enabled smart phones that could do the same thing. As you say, the kind of person who buys this device is not likely trolling Unofficial Networks or the TGR chatrooms (gotta be careful in that one!). If his device saves a single child it will have been worth it.

  2. Very good … very true … you are the beacon, my love.

  3. Good post Rach, very well balanced

  4. Seeing as to how this is a marketing blog I won’t bore you as to the details of why this product is a potential death trap for countless people in the mountains. But as somone who was raised by an avalanche expert and has known how to use an avalanche beacon for transmit and search mode from the age of 5, I promise you that the product will kill somebody. Unofficial explains the reasons quite well in their post.

    I do respect your analysis that this is a case of a startup with a marketing problem. And I have to agree that they have a major problem. However, their problem has nothing to do with marketing. Their problem is that their product, while being created with the best of intentions, has the potential to kill people. There is a reason that the blogger pushed his views everywhere. He wanted to save lives. Not to get hits, but to make sure that more families don’t have to go to a funeral when the death of their loved one could have been prevented.

    The backlash that you are seeing is a driect result of this knowledge, and demonstrates another phenomenon. The phenomenon of people who know what they are talking about speaking out against something they know is dangerous. That is why it has gone viral in the snow community, and that is why the comments on the facebook page are asking the gentleman to remove the product from the market. It does not matter that the backcountry skiers who are speaking out about it are not the target market. This is because in the long run they know that this product will find its way onto someone who feels protected by this ineffective product and decides to enter bacountry terrain. This would put themselves and others at risk. Knowing this, the snowsports community has rallied against this device in a matter of hours. What you are actually seeing here is the condemnation of a product by those who know what they are talking about.

    This phenomenon is actually really, really cool. It demonstrates the power that everyone has to expose dangerous products before they are even released and take a single life. Will it more than likely sink this product and business? Yes. Is that a bad thing? NO! Much like people stopped buying toyotas for a period of time after they had their acceleration issues, people will hopefully never purchase this product. This collective action by the online snow sports community is essenntially ensuring that nobody has to die before the problems with this product come to light. And that is way cooler than an author getting a few more hits on his blog

  5. First of all this is a fairly well written and balanced article, and these comments are directed more at people who don’t understand why people are so upset about the snow- beacon, and why the bloggers attack on this product may be justified.
    On the original web site there was NO indication that this beacon was only meant for inbounds use by children. Avalanches are no joke, and it is very clear that the inventor of this product has only a limited understanding of avalanche rescue, and probably doesn’t fully understand why his product is dangerous (he even suggested putting the beacon in a coat pocket- if you don’t know why this is bad you probably have never taken any kind of snow safety class). Both the American and Canadian Avalanche Centers have posted warnings about this product on their facebook pages, calling it dangerous. To people who ski casually and have little or no avalanche training (clearly the target market of the snow- beacon) it may not be clear how dangerous this product is, and misuse it. Children who are old enough to ski in avalanche terrain can be trained how to use a real beacon easily, and avalanche gear is not an area where you should be cost cutting by buying inferior products.
    There are legitimate uses for beacons without a search function but the original (and IMO the current) marketing of the snow- beacon had no indication of its limitations. The snow- beacon is clearly marketed towards inexperienced skiers who should not be in avalanche terrain anyway (inbounds avalanches are very rare and almost always occur in remote, difficult inbound terrain). I applaud the inventor for putting more warnings on his website, but marketing a beacon with no search function as an alternative to a real beacon is inexcusable.
    Oh and Steve GPS enabled cellphones DO NOT work as avalanche beacons. They are nowhere near accurate enough to locate a victim, and by the time a probe search is conducted in the area the victim will probably be dead.
    I personally believe that even with the added warnings the snow- be is a dangerous product that will encourage people to venture in to areas that they don’t belong and may, in the long, run result in more deaths than lives saved. I am no expert but I ski 70- 80 days a year in the back country and avalanche prone resorts- Bridger Bowl, Jackson Hole, and Grand Targhee.

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